New York Philharmonic/Maazel [Stanley Drucker World Record]

Brandenburg Concerto No.4 in G, BWV1049
Trumpet Concerto in E flat
Clarinet Concerto

Michelle Kim (violin), Renée Siebert & Mindy Kaufman (flutes) [Bach]

Philip Smith (trumpet)

Stanley Drucker (clarinet)

New York Philharmonic
Lorin Maazel

Reviewed by: Gene Gaudette

Reviewed: 4 June, 2009
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Lorin Maazel. Photograph: Silvia LelliLorin Maazel here began the final four weeks (to include Britten’s “War Requiem” and Mahler’s Symphony No.8) of his seven-year tenure as music director of the New York Philharmonic.

This concert featured five of the Philharmonic’s leading musicians. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.4 was played with all of the non-authenticity one has come to expect from Maazel in this repertoire. Articulation from the thirty or so string-players was on the soft-edged side throughout, dynamics were a bit wider (to say the least) than one hears from ‘period’-instrument ensembles, and, in the outer movements, the harpsichord — when it could be heard — seemed to serve more of a timbral than continuo purpose. The soloists, Renée Siebert, Mindy Kaufman and Michelle Kim, brought grace and imagination (and a scattering of baroque elaboration and ornamentation) to the concerto’s melodic material.

Principal trumpet Philip Smith was the soloist in Haydn’s Concerto in E flat (replacing the premiere of Aaron Jay Kernis’s A Voice, A Messenger, also for trumpet and orchestra and which is now scheduled for next season). Maazel reined-in the ‘interventionist’ touches to which he is often prone in classical repertoire, keeping the orchestral lines transparent and lean. Smith played the demanding solo part with effortlessness, and brought joviality to the work’s outer movements that evades many other trumpeters, and found a beautiful, almost singing line to the concerto’s slow movement.

Following intermission was Copland’s Clarinet Concerto (written for Benny Goodman). Principal clarinetist Stanley Drucker is 80, but looks at least twenty years younger and exhibits the sort of energy one sees from hot-shot twenty-somethings. Drucker played this difficult concerto with exuberance and playfulness — he was a study in non-stop motion — and utilized a dizzying array of sonorities and articulation which few if any clarinetists can match within the ‘traditional’ repertoire. The Philharmonic played with both precision and passion – though, under Maazel’s direction, a few sections sounded remarkably like early Roy Harris, others like Stravinsky’s neo-Baroque works. Not that these surprising touches were unwelcome — Drucker riffed-off of the orchestra with alternating lyricism, brashness and aplomb, the results unerringly musical.

The Philharmonic then presented Drucker, who is retiring at the end of the current season, with a series of surprises. A terrific video in which many of principal players, members of management, and the still-living former music directors of the Philharmonic (Boulez, Mehta and Masur) paid tribute to Drucker. City councilwoman Gale Brewer presented Drucker with a proclamation from New York City honoring his 60-year career with the Philharmonic and contributions to the city’s cultural life, and the Guinness Book of Records offered its official certification of Drucker as “Longest Career as a Clarinetist”.

The concert concluded with Ravel’s Boléro. While one often sees this orchestra quite physically engaged with Maazel, the players seemed more energized than usual — even in the opening pianissimo passages; yet Maazel was far more restrained – even in the final bars — than one has come to expect from him. The repeated tune went through a more exaggerated transformation than one often hears, Maazel eliciting Technicolor detail from the inexorable rhythmic accompaniment. He gratuitously punctuated the work’s conclusion with a sudden shift into low gear for just the one beat before the ‘key change’ that signals the coda, and added a fermata on the second beat of the work’s last measure — but with a Boléro of this caliber, not to mention the outstanding concerto performances that preceded it, far be it from me to complain!

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